By Tyler Berry
Thriving as a rookie in the WNBA – or any league for that matter – is no easy feat. It takes a combination of skill, will and a team’s ability to teach a first-year player the professional game. It’s even harder when that rookie is a point guard, the position most basketball experts consider the most difficult to play at the next level. Add in another obstacle: Playing for a championship-caliber team with arguably the greatest player to ever play the position. There’s so much to learn, absorb, and adapt to that it’s enough to make your head spin. Only a select few are actually cut out for it.
Enter Jordin Canada.
Taken fifth overall in this year’s WNBA Draft by the Seattle Storm, the point guard out of UCLA was thrust into a winning atmosphere instantly. In the course of a month, she went from finishing her collegiate career to backing up a future Hall-of-Famer in Sue Bird. You remember Bird. She’s only the 11-time All-Star and two-time champion who just set the WNBA record for most games played, holds the league record for all-time assists, and the Storm record for total points.
Canada was essentially drafted to be her replacement one day. No pressure, right?
As the season began, Seattle used Canada as Bird’s clear backup, but was given extra minutes based on her feel of the game on a given night. In her professional debut against Phoenix, she played 20 minutes, scored nine points on 4-of-8 shooting and had four steals. She followed this respectable debut with an 11-minute, one-point performance again against Phoenix. Her third game she played 27 minutes, finishing with 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting.
Now, a rookie point guard’s first three games are nothing to overreact about. However, her entire year has been filled with these vacillating three-or-four-game splits. Look at the three-games from May 31 to June 7: Nine points, seven assists followed by nine points, nine assists, followed by four points (0-of-5 shooting), four assists.
The inconsistencies are to be expected and one could argue that maybe she was seeing too much court time early on in the year. The professional game hits a whole new level from a pace standpoint and it can be overwhelming for someone at Canada’s position. That’s why it looks as though, in the last month, coach Dan Hughes has found more of a minute sweet spot for her. If you look at her numbers since June 22, she hasn’t played over 19 minutes in a game.
With a few less minutes per game, she’s able to learn more from the bench. Watching Bird run an offense is a thing of beauty, and a better learning tool than most. Hughes’ coaching staff can talk Canada through different defensive looks and how to counter them offensively while also educating her on what Bird does to space the floor and create. Floor time is important but seeing things from the bench and learning from the best is also vital for a rookie’s success. It’s not unlike an NFL quarterback. Aaron Rodgers watched and learned from Brett Farve. Jimmy Garoppolo watched and learned from Tom Brady.
The best thing that could’ve happened to Jordin Canada was being drafted by Seattle. She’s learning and improving on a game-by-game basis, and it shows. Take Tuesday night’s game against Phoenix:
It started early in the second quarter in transition. Canada sped down the court with the ball, stopped on a dime with a behind-the-back dribble and hit a beautiful midrange jumper. That’s smart transition offense. She had the best look to score in the moment and took the opportunity with confidence. It’s not easy to create that space when moving at full speed, but it’s something she’s clearly been working on, and something that Sue Bird can do quite well.
Canada is also turning into a solid shooter off the dribble. All of her buckets on Tuesday night happened because she created separation between her and a defender. She has great ballhandling skills and an arsenal of moves that includes a pro-level crossover, a hesitation move, and a step-back that she makes look effortless. She can utilize any – or all – of these moves in a single possession and end up with a high percentage shot opportunity.
She certainly had the ability to create space off the dribble at UCLA, but the WNBA is a different animal. Bird has made a career out of finding separation to hit shots in the midrange. That’s another skill that’s clearly rubbing off on Canada.
In October, Bird will turn 38. She’ll be halfway to 39 by the time the 2019 WNBA season tips off. Canada’s time is coming sooner rather than later and the Storm have to be happy that she’s showing promise and growing under the tutelage of a Hall-of-Famer. Whenever Bird decides to hang it up, the franchise should be in good hands.